Design is the most underrated element of any product, yet it can be the key differentiator in a crowded market. Its more important than the technology you choose to build your product in, and why should the technology even matter anyway? The technology remains completely transparent to the end user, hidden away behind the user interface.
When you think of a smart phone, what do you think of? Now keep thinking about that phone and consider its name, the manufacturing of the device and how it feels in your hand. Turn it on and study the screen for a moment. Look at how information is purposefully positioned, a seemingly harmonious balance of text and colour. How many attributes about the presentation just make sense to you? As if that’s how its always been since the dawn of time. The irony is that the presentation of what’s on your screen didn't exist only a few years before. It’s all been carefully designed to entice and excite your use of its mandate.
Will people feel the same way about your product? From when they first see your brand, through to when they sign into your application for the first time. When they use it to achieve something during their day. Your product is only as good as the design execution itself. From the logo, to the user interface through to the buttons that the users will click on. Following are some high level design principles to consider when you’re designing your product.
We’ve been inspired by color for tens of thousands of years. From early cave paintings to the projection from our digital televisions. Color articulates a torrent of information where words fail. In product design, careful use of color can fundamentally change the user experience. Certain colors also have universal meaning. Consider what color palette will be employed to present your brand, the user interface of your product and even down to the color of hyperlinks within your signup email. The brand experience will be underpinned by the color palette you choose.
User Interface (UI)
You have the product idea, the business logic has been defined and you’ve already started writing the code. But how will a human work with your software? What will be presented on screen when a user clicks on something? You need to peel back the product into steps of execution. How does a user navigate from point A to point B in the most elegant way? What is the visual progression as some one moves through the application? From the moment they log into your product, they should be able to grasp the basics. The language or iconography you implement needs to be natural. The User Interface, intuitive.
User Experience (UX)
Defining a great user experience requires research and analysis. Collecting and analyzing data, highlighting key information to users and emphasizing important information at the most appropriate moment. Does the User Interface of your product provide a compelling User Experience for end users? Will they be delighted by the simplicity you’ve crafted into your complex solution? Is your product beautiful? The product tagline of Xero, a New Zealand based cloud based accounting product is Beautiful accounting software. That’s what we’re talking about. In a world full of pedestrian accounting software packages that look as if they were designed by the most uninspired people in the history of the human race, Xero executed elegance into accounting software of all things. How will users judge the User Experience of your product? Strive to make it beautiful.
Your product needs to improve the current
Most products don't provide a completely new way of doing something. Most simply improve on an existing process. And there’s good reason for this. First, its very difficult to provide a completely new way of doing something. Second, you don't want to alienate users who’ve grown accustomed to performing a task a certain way. Reiteration is a proven method for product development. From the first napkin sketch you make, your product needs to improve upon an existing process that is either broken, or is within an industry that is ripe for disruption. Design is your best friend. It will allow you to approach solving problems in new and profound ways that your competitors are unlikely to be thinking about.
Inspiring your users
We believe that great products inspire. You can immediately tell when the design of a product has been carefully considered. It makes the experience more enjoyable. Users will lean in further if you can solve complex functionality with a friendly and elegant user experience. When it comes to using some products, there can be unintentional ambiguity that things feel unstructured and broken. Aim to design an experience that inspires your users. One that not only solves the feeling of ambiguity, but an experience that empowers users to believe they can potentially achieve a lot more than what they might have first thought when they signed up to trail your product. Well executed design has the power to change perception.
What we did with Stream
We had some initial ideas of how we wanted our product to look. This was largely based on our regular use of and experience with social media and collaboration products. Again our goal wasn't to invent an entirely new type of product from scratch. Something that was so unique and unproven. Our aim was to develop a complimentary product for existing Cloud document management solutions, like Dropbox and Google Drive, and the community that embrace these platform. When it came to the user interface requirements we worked to the following criteria:
- Simple to navigate (we wanted to ensure there was a universal way of navigating the product, whether you might be using your laptop, tablet or smart phone)
- Scalable (the user interface had to support small and large amounts of content. From a couple of users through to thousands of users)
- Unified activity dashboard (once users have logged into the product, we wanted the main screen to present an integrated view of all activity happening across the entire team)
- Encourage engagement (it was important that the user experience of the product itself would drive exploration and engagement by the users)